Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

Brian McCann is Awesome

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The following has been on my list of topics to write about for nearly three weeks:

Brian McCann: Awesome!, HoF?”

I was going to wait until after the season to expand on that, but now a) it is after McCann’s season, b) I have two days between series to write about something, and c) most of all, I don’t want to get beat to the punch.  Here’s what Rob Neyer wrote in his review of Giants-Braves IV:

I’ll have more about this next month, probably. But Brian McCann, performing brilliantly at the plate and behind it, reminded me that he’s one of the best players in the game, and definitely one of the more underrated. McCann’s never picked up a single point in MVP balloting, but he’s been an All-Star in each of his five full seasons, and has the beginnings of a good Hall of Fame case.

Fine, Rob, I’ll get back to work and write something.  I first thought of McCann during the last week of the regular season when I noticed the Braves only had two above average hitters: McCann and Jason Heyward (about whom I’ll have plenty of words this offseason as well).  Of course Chipper Jones and Martin Prado were not playing, and despite hitting above average this season, I don’t really think Omar Infante is an above average hitter, if that makes sense.  Derek Lee had an OPS+ of 130 for the Braves in 151 plate appearances, which made his OPS+ for the season 103 (not good at first base).  Heading into the playoffs, the Braves were obviously not at full strength, nor very good; this was not the team that won 91 games.

McCann had another fine season, his 4th All-Star caliber season in his five full seasons (he has made the All-Star team all five seasons though – to be fair, he had a decent first half in 2007 and it’s not always easy to find an All-Star caliber catcher).  Here’s a summary:

Season G HR R RBI BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ WAR
2005 59 5 20 23 8.8% 14.4% 0.278 0.345 0.400 0.319 97 0.9
2006 130 24 61 93 8.3% 12.2% 0.333 0.388 0.572 0.402 146 5.2
2007 139 18 51 92 6.3% 14.7% 0.270 0.320 0.452 0.328 99 2.5
2008 145 23 68 87 9.9% 12.6% 0.301 0.373 0.523 0.387 140 5.8
2009 138 21 63 94 8.9% 17.0% 0.281 0.349 0.486 0.359 122 4.3
2010 143 21 63 77 13.1% 20.5% 0.269 0.375 0.453 0.361 128 5.3

 

In just the five full seasons (McCann turned 26 just before the season started in February), he has accumulated 23.1 WAR according to FanGraphs.  Here are the top 8 catchers in terms of career WAR from FanGraphs, along with McCann and his contemporary Joe Mauer:

Name Batting Fielding Replacement Positional RAR WAR WAR through age-26 Age at Retirement
Johnny Bench 301.7 71 289 90.4 752.1 81.5 48.4 35
Carlton Fisk 232.8 27 328.4 106.2 694.4 74.4 14.3 45
Ivan Rodriguez 105.8 156 337.8 148.9 748.5 73.4 31.5 38 (active)
Gary Carter 169.9 112 300.6 110.1 692.5 72.5 33 38
Yogi Berra 307.1 27 278.8 82.7 695.7 71.4 20.4 40
Joe Torre 352.5 -29 293.4 19.2 636 70.8 29.9 37
Mike Piazza 425.4 -63 258.2 84.9 705.5 68.2 17.6 38
Bill Dickey 349 20 232.4 52.7 654.2 63.8 18.5 39
Brian McCann 91 0 97.9 50.6 239.5 23.9 23.9 26 (active)
Joe Mauer 168.5 -1 119.3 41.7 328.5 32.7 27.6 27 (active)

 

You might have heard of some of them (sidebar: Mike Piazza was a really, really good hitter).  Johnny Bench was a freak who had two MVPs by age 24 and should probably be thrown out of the discussion; it’s just not fair to compare people to him.  Fisk and Bench were born 19 days apart from each other; it’s really interesting to note the different paths their careers took to end up at almost the same place.  Obviously Fisk played longer and Bench peaked higher and earlier, but we’re talking about two of the best five or six catchers ever.  Rodriguez and Carter are so superior to everyone else defensively that it’s almost comical.

Both McCann and Mauer compare well to this group though; among those eligible, only Torre isn’t in the Hall of Fame, and he only was a catcher for about 40% of his career.  The only fluke in McCann’s career so far looks like 2007, when his walk rate dipped by 50 percent and he hit only 0.270/0.320/0.452.  He hit fewer home runs per fly ball but maintained the same batting ball profile; seems like he was BABIP-unlucky, which is a bad thing when you stop walking also.

Mostly though, the last five seasons are eerily similar, and I’m betting that we see several more 0.280/0.370/0.480 seasons from McCann in the next few years.  As he enters his age-27 season, McCann should be entering the prime of his career.  If he continues piling up 5-WAR seasons, it would take him until age 34 to catch Dickey and age 35 to catch Piazza.  I can’t say that I’d bet on that happening over the next eight to ten seasons, but I have no problem believing that we might have a conversation in 2020 about Brian McCann’s Hall of Fame career.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

October 13, 2010 at 10:43 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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